Science Commons News: A commons-sense approach to winning the drug discovery lottery
Kaitlin Thaney, February 24th, 2008
In a new piece [free reg. req.] this week from GenomeWeb Daily News, Aled Edwards — director and CEO of the Structural Genomics Consortium — describes the drug discovery process as a “lottery,” and argues that increasing the chances for discovery will require that people in “academia, industry, and funding bodies collaborate and keep new structural data accessible to all researchers who might be interested in using it.”
The sentiment echoes those of Science Commons’ own John Wilbanks, who earlier this year wrote a post on the Nature Network comparing drug discovery to a game of roulette. It’s a game, says Wilbanks, that people win by “betting on every square, then patenting the one that wins and extracting high rents from it.” The biggest problem in this scenario, he argues, isn’t the existence of patents, but the sheer complexity of the human body, and how much we still have to learn about it:
Human bodies make microprocessors look like children’s toys in terms of complexity. …Complexity is the problem both in terms of our understanding of bodies and drugs and in terms of reworking the models around discovery. This system regularly and utterly defeats the best efforts of many entrepreneurs and policy reformers to change things for the better.
So what’s the solution? According to Wilbanks, it’s a “commons approach,” which entails precisely the kind of collaboration that Edwards advocates […]